As I left the house for the final time, the cheeky, inquisitive little boy next door watched me. ‘Are you sure you want to leave?’ he asked, and I tried not to let it get to me because I was – I am –sure it’s the right thing to do.
I do feel a sadness, though, as I have loved living in Liverpool and I know I’ve got a great deal from it, and moving there was only ever going to be temporary. I haven’t regretted it, ever. So here’s my post to Liverpool, a self-indulgent goodbye and thank you letter that tries to share how I, as an outsider, experienced the city and why I think if you haven’t been, you should go there.
In Liverpool I learned a lot. Liverpool gave me a new perspective on poverty, inequality and what it means to be in recession. And although everyone hates Tories, their policies touch close and their rhetoric still divides. Liverpool’s not a socialist utopia, most especially there’s a nasty minority of the racist far-right, channelling their (unsurprising) anger into hate. There’s also a pretty vocal active left, but not one I managed to find a political home with during my time there. Liverpool allowed me to write – to put pen to paper and not be ashamed. To stop waiting for permission to “be creative”. I learned that I could teach myself to do things. I learned that I could go to things on my own and, if I wanted to, find people to talk to who had interesting things to say and would even be interested in what I had to say. Liverpool felt like community, the degrees of separation few. I could probably go on forever, so I’ve limited myself to a Liverpool top 10.
10 things that make Liverpool for me:
- The water
Liverpool is, of course, framed – and made – by the water. From the glorious broad sweep of the inland Mersey as the train crosses Runcorn, through the industrial grandeur of the docks, to the beach escapes over the water or to the North of the city. The water that falls from the sky every single day. A broad expanse that makes the Thames seem scrawny. An enormous public art piece, hundreds of Gormley’s iron men dotted along the coast, looking out to the world this sea was so powerfully connected to. The Ferry.
- The space
In London, I felt a horrible claustrophobia most of the time. In Liverpool, I felt freed from this. I don’t mean to sound distasteful, but I could live in a house where I had space to move, for about half the rent I’d been paying before. This cheapness, and even more so the rows of boarded up houses – or empty spaces where houses were demolished, only for redevelopment plans to falter – testifies the city’s poverty. I didn’t get to know the city well enough to know if it has much of a squat scene but it felt like it should. For someone used to space being a precious commodity, those empty houses, and the security effort that goes into keeping them empty, feel very sad.
On the other hand, there is beauty even in that sadness; the dereliction that accompanies ‘managed decline’ means space to breathe, to grow. New things can spring up – and I think what’s happening in the Baltic triangle area, and some of the ‘pop-ups’ are good examples of this. So are the weeds and wild flowers that the fences can’t keep out.
- Threshold Festival
It seems that in Liverpool there is always some party, festival or event going on, from the major events like the Biennial (it’s now!), Sound City and the wonderful Giant Spectacular to the more niche or small scale – a market, a fair, a stage with some bands. Many are free, or at least low cost. When I first visited it on the occasional weekend, I would stumble upon them accidentally – huge samba parades and the world’s largest pirate muster springing up bringing a sense of magic and surprise. Once there, I tried to keep track of what was happening when, and to get myself involved, mainly as a volunteer. I was pleased to be involved in DaDaFest, which showcased some excellent and very diverse work by disabled and D/deaf artists and saw the ‘arts establishment’ and ‘community arts’ find a rare meeting ground. However, Threshold Festival probably best sums up for me Liverpool’s DIY attitude (and ability to put on a boss party), as a grassroots festival making the best use of charm, connections, and scarce resources. They offer a little bit of something for everyone, a series of events throughout the year leading up to the festival itself: put 8-10thMarch in your diary.
- Bold Street
Running from the edge of the shopping centre of town to the bombed out church (St. Luke’s), and the ‘daytime’ end of the ‘Ropewalks’ area, this street is full of gems and has an unmistakeable character – and, of course, a festival – of its own. So it starts off more bargain chain stores than anything else, but by the time you’re halfway up there are some of Liverpool centre’s best charity shops, Matta’s small but superb ‘ethnic’ grocers and Leaf, chilled out tea shop by day, trendy venue at night. By the top, you’ll have passed vintage, design, independent shops selling art supplies (Rennies) or music (The Music Consortium), radical bookshop News from Nowhere and its adjoining community centre, Ropewalks square opening onto FACT and the mighty Bold Street Coffee.
- Camp & Furnace
Camp and Furnace is many things. It’s a sort of game of how much boss stuff can we fit into one enormous ex-warehouse. Lots, it turns out, and Ian Richards seems to have a clear vision for ‘a new kind of venue’. This country badly needs indoor ‘outdoor’ spaces and this one’s perfect, with trees, wood fires and quirky vintage caravans. It hosts all sorts of events: bands, art fairs and er, Scandi-themed hot tub parties, serves an excellent range of drinks (including their own specially-brewed beer) and bloody good food (and an exciting and varied specials board). Ok, so the word ‘eatery’ grates and the lack of classic starter/main divides can confuse, but ‘Food & Beverage Director’ Ste Burgess knows his shit and the detail, flavours, sourcing and presentation are absolutely spot on.
- Green Cauldron Coffee
A controversial choice, in a city where great coffee has its unchallenged leader. I’m not saying Bold Street and sister establishment Duke Street aren’t brilliant places that sell delicious coffee. I’m saying that there’s another brilliant place that sells delicious coffee (and food) that’s not so high profile but is well worth a visit, especially if you’re up that end of town. Bang on coffee trend, Green Cauldron is Australian, with their own coffee plantation so they really know – and care – about their beans. They also do hearty sandwiches in Turkish flatbreads and proper cakes, made by someone’s mum, and are unfailingly lovely.
- The Kazimier
The Kazimier is a venue/nightclub unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. It’s party as art, a spectacle, even a culture in itself. The décor echoes art deco cabaret meets music hall, but invaded by rockstars. Now it even has a garden. One of my first Liverpool experiences was a Kazimier one – Atalonia – a retro-futuristic journey starting in a disused warehouse but ending up in a magical underground alternative world. One of my last was the FestEvol gardens, a mini-festival featuring so many bands and DJs it was hard to know where to look. Whatever it’s doing, the Kazimier is cool as fuck, but never forgets to be fun.
- The Bluecoat
Calling itself a ‘creative hub’, The Bluecoat‘s diverse approach to arts and creativity is typical, really. Exhibition space (showing some quite challenging contemporary art), performance space, activities, fairs, independent crafts, studios, discussions…well, look at the programme to see just how much stuff they do.
The Bluecoat believes everyone can craft and be creative and it is our aim to provide a space where creativity can flourish and be shared.
This is a lovely ethos and you can probably see why it appeals to me, and I did a brilliant dot-art evening course in various crafts here (although for affordability and camaraderie, my leisure learning heart lies up the road at Blackburne House with the ROOD Vintage girls). It also, like so much in the arts, relies on volunteer labour and though passing a half-day in the gallery with a book is a pretty pleasant way to spend one’s free time… well, you know. A great starting point to get away from the more obvious at the Tate, the Walker and the Playhouse (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why limit yourself?). Then go to the smaller, independent and artist-led spaces, (personal fave) Wolstenholme Creative Space, Static, The Royal Standard, Metal and, no doubt, many others I don’t even know about. And then tell me about them.
- The Double Negative
As a newcomer to Liverpool, not knowing many people, I was totally dependent on the internet to make connections and find my way around. There are loads of great Liverpool tweeters and, I feel a sense of community there, even with people I haven’t met IRL. Through Twitter I became aware of events, opportunities, offers, new openings. Most of the things I’ve mentioned in this list I either first became aware of, or kept up to date with, through Twitter. Even before I moved to Liverpool I was reading some of its blogs, most notably Seven Streets, Open Culture and Food Fascination, a varied, knowledgeable food blog. Shortly after I did, a new culture site launched: The Double Negative. Writing reflectively, often intelligently and critically about the city’s (and beyond) ‘culture scene’, The Double Negative features local artists’ work, interviews, a film podcast (in which I’ve appeared!), a weekly thematic playlist and, for me best of all, Culture Diary. Let these guys plan your week. Seriously.
10. The people
You didn’t think I was going to forget you, did I? Bolshy, “aggressively friendly”, curious, hilarious, unapologetic, inimitable – I don’t want to replicate stereotypes but I don’t think there’s any question of a distinct ‘Liverpool culture’. There’s the scousers themselves, and so many who’ve drifted there, many settling accidentally whilst just passing through. People with lots of creative energy; it’s telling that there’s hardly any comedy nights but every bar has an open mic night. A people with the gift of the gab and plenty of opinions, in a city with a lively spirit of public debate. A city where femininity is consciously and quite marvellously performed, an aesthetic with no pretence of ‘natural’ but that allows for being ‘off-duty’ too, out in the streets in PJ and rollers. And, over the past few weeks, you’ve shown the incredible ability of a community to pull together to share grief and to fight for justice. I’ll miss you.